Post-World Cup, ESPN Still Puts Its Best Soccer Foot Forward
By: Carolyn Braff, Editor
Wednesday, August 11, 2010 - 9:51 am

After spending a full month covering the World Cup on every possible platform, ESPN could have viewed the friendly match between the USA and Brazil national teams as a letdown. With Grant Best driving the Aug, 10 production, however, there was no chance of that. Directing one of the first sporting events at New Meadowlands Stadium, Best worked to make 10 cameras look like 20, brought his directorial philosophy to the production, and was able to appreciate a vuvuzela-free stadium for the first time since June.

An Even 10
For Tuesday night’s matchup, Best was given a standard complement of 10 cameras, which he says is enough to cover the game properly.

“Ten cameras is a good spec,” he says. “You cover the topography and pattern of the game; you cover your offsides, your high end zones. You have some low cameras, some handhelds — it’s plenty of cameras. More cameras does not necessarily mean better coverage; it does not always work like that. We try to make 10 look like 20.”

For the World Cup, he points out, Host Broadcast Services had an average of 30 cameras per game, including some very high-tech cameras. At New Meadowlands Stadium, the ESPN complement of 10, including a jib, allows him to be quite creative.

A Tight Fit in a Football Stadium
However, because New Meadowlands Stadium is an NFL facility, not a soccer-specific stadium, the soccer pitch was designed at the minimal regulation width of 70 yards. With the soccer field in place, there is minimal room surrounding the pitch, creating very tight sideline spacing.

“All NFL stadiums have a curve that cuts the touchline,” Best explains. “I’ve had to place two cameras in a smaller space than I probably would do normally, but I need to cover myself if the ball goes underneath my main game camera.”

In most stadiums, he says, the main game camera will show all the lines of the field. At New Meadowlands Stadium, however, the line is very tight to the NFL wall, so tight that it becomes an uncomfortable fit.

“You can see the line, but it’s not comfortable; it’s quite a tight shot,” Best says. “We’ve put two cameras at each low end zone to accommodate. When the ball goes very tight to the touchlines, you can still film it so the viewer doesn’t miss anything, which is obviously the most important thing.”

Storytelling 101
As a director, he believes that it is critical to tell the story of the game by showing the viewers what is going on in the field of play. He does not, however, believe that it is necessary to talk down to the viewers or assume that they know nothing.

“I think it’s a little bit unfair to think that no one understands the game here,” Best says. “There are a lot of people who understand it. My job as a director is to tell the story of the game. When a guy is offside, I don’t expect our talent to get the rule book out and tell me the rule of offside, but I expect him to be clever and articulate enough, with the help of pictures, to give our viewer an understanding of what’s happened. By doing that, I feel that’s enough explanation.”

Simple and Attractive
According to Best, three elements of his directorial technique set his broadcasts apart from others: touch, feel, and reading of the game.

“It’s very simple: my philosophy is to show the viewer the game and tell the story of the game,” he explains. “If you’re not giving the viewer the game, you’re deciding what they should see in the wrong way. My philosophy is, if someone’s missed something, that’s a mistake. The most important thing is to document the game. It should be simple and attractive.”

A Vuvuzela-Free Zone
Helping make the game attractive is an audio complement that does not induce a search for the mute button. On that front, the “No Vuvuzelas” signs posted outside New Meadowlands Stadium were certainly a step in the right direction.

“When you’re directing, you listen to the crowd,” Best says. “With the vuvuzela, you couldn’t hear it; the drone dulled the crowd. I’ve been directing football now for a number of years, and I’ve seen my fair share of big stadiums and atmospheres, but, as a director, you want to be able to hear the crowd.”

Building Blocks
ESPN is hoping to build off the audience it attracted during the World Cup, to keep Americans tuned into the sport in the four years between World Cups. Having a director like Best calling the shots on a national team game is a significant step towards that goal.

“These are games that you look forward to as a director,” he said of the USA-Brazil matchup. “These are the games that you want people who are not soccer fans to tune into. We are now hopefully taking this to the next stage, taking those viewers we found at the World Cup and hopefully getting them to watch, and keep watching.”

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